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Heating bills skyrocket, force Montanans to rethink turning on heat

Posted at 3:57 PM, Jan 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-10 10:17:19-05

MISSOULA — It is something that in the summer we take for granted — heat.

But with long periods of cold temperatures this winter in Montana, heat is something that many people are forced to reconsider turning on.

“It's extremely frustrating because you're looking for help. Help is just there but just out of reach,” said Cheryl Wright.

Christina Wright is a mother of four who experienced homelessness and now lives with her children and mother — Cheryl Wright — in Section 8 Housing.

Cheryl is the only one that brings in an income. Christina has been actively seeking Social Security Disability for her injuries but hasn’t been able to get it for the past four years.

Energy Share is a privately funded organization that aims at helping those in emergency situations.

“They have unforeseen circumstances or unexpected things that have happened like getting laid off or, you know, their car breaks down or something like that and they just don't have the money in the bank,” said Energy Share of Montana executive director Rachel Haberman.

Another option for those who are struggling to turn their heat on this winter is the government-funded program — the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

“Eligibility for assistance is based on your income and resource limits," Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Resources Bureau Chief Sara Loewen told MTN News. "So for a family of four that income limit is about $52,000 a year. both homeowners and renters can apply for the programs.”

Energy Share helps about 2,500 people across the state, and LIHEAP helps as many as 18,000 people.

Haberman said that heating bills are expected to skyrocket to as much as a 50% increase this year which will make it nearly impossible for some to turn on their heat.

The Wright’s housing situation depends on if they make their energy payment every month.

“That's why it's so frustrating and such a high fear factor is because if our electric is not paid, we lose our housing as well,” said Cheryl Wright.

Cheryl makes a little more than $800 a month to support five people and their heating bill this month jumped over $130 from last month.

Combining other expenses into the mix makes paying the heating bill nearly impossible, but for the Wright’s they need to in order to keep a roof over their head. The Wright’s have applied for government help in the past, however, the help didn’t come quick enough.

“But it really does take a very long time for the assistance to kick in," said Christina Wright. "And you tell your electric company that you're pending Leah, they'll still shut you off. Right. And then even if you submit that setup notice or a warning or wherever we were just like well you have to wait your turn, your processing time, and I get the fact that you know there's other people in line. But why wouldn't the people that are getting shut off or getting shutoff notices to be priority?”

Both programs encourage people to use their local Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) to help with program applications.

Bozeman, Livingston HRDC-

Missoula, Mineral and Ravalli County HRC-